Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory

In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news t hat Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth's ambitious leap to the throne will draw her husband back to the center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be.

Elizabeth's excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country where treason is rampant and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the ambitious Robert Dudley. As the young couple falls in love, a question hangs in the air: can he really set aside his wife and marry the queen? When Amy is found dead, Elizabeth and Dudley are suddenly plunged into struggle for survival.

Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Intelligent, romantic, and compelling, The Virgin's Lover presents a young woman on the brink of greatness, a young man whose ambition exceeds his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them. (from back cover)

The Tudor reign has to be one of the most fascinating aspects of history. I honestly cannot get enough of this royal family and the intrigue and scandal that runs rampant as its court. My friend and I just finished season one of The Tudors, which is such a good show. Mostly my reading of Tudor England is restricted to Henry VIII's wives, and my personal favorite, Anne Boleyn. But I thought I would enjoy a story about Elizabeth I, Anne's daughter, written by one of my favorite authors, Philippa Gregory.

Everyone knows about Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and one of England's greatest monarchs. To read a story about the intimate life about Elizabeth was so interesting. I know most of the book is fiction, but a lot of it is also fact, and Philippa Gregory's detailed and immersive writing quickly sucks you into this cutthroat world of politics. It is very difficult to be king or queen and I think Gregory effectively captured that feeling. Elizabeth had to make many tough decisions, not sure which would be the right one and was constantly second-guessing herself. She sometimes annoyed me with her unwillingness to find a husband, even though it was extremely important for the security of England. Nonetheless, Elizabeth was helped througout the book by her advisor, William Cecil, also Secretary of State. Cecil was one of my favorite characters because he was smart, cunning, and faithful to Elizabeth and England. He was ambitious, but would not sacrifice the country for his own interests, unlike Robert Dudley, who was more than willing to do so. How can you not love a character who has a spy network all over Europe numbering in the thousands and knows everything before everyone else?

In addition to Cecil, Robert Dudley was also an interesting character. His love for Elizabeth seemed sincere, but it was also colored by his unhealthy ambition to be king of England. He treated his wife pretty poorly but seemed genuinely distressed at her death. Amy Dudley's death is a real-life mystery, and The Virgin's Lover works to answer that question. By the end you'll have Gregory's imagining of what she thought happened, though not much is focused on the death as it happens at the very end of the novel.

When historical fiction is good, it is really good. The Virgin's Lover is historical fiction at its best, along with Philippa Gregory's other works. The story is finely detailed, compelling, even romantic at times. If you are interested in this era, I would highly recommend this series because its one of the best I've come across.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2004/Touchstone/438 pages.

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